This video shows just how awesomely huge the People’s Climate March was

Source: Grist


Damn, that was big! The People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday brought out record crowds.



An official count conducted at the People’s Climate March in New York City showed that over 310,000 people participated in the largest climate rally in history — more than tripling pre-march estimates of 100,000. …

Shattering expectations, this official attendee count makes the People’s Climate March New York City’s largest social demonstration in the last decade. Well above the 50,000 who attended Forward on Climate in 2013 and the 80,000 who attended the 2009 march at the Copenhagen climate talks, the 310,000 attendees at today’s demonstration have set world history just days before a UN Summit bringing world leaders together to discuss tangible action on climate change. …

Relying on a crowd density analysis formula developed by a professor of game theory and complex systems at Carnegie Mellon University, the official attendee count calculates the average density of the march crowd over specific intervals, factoring in the surface area covered by the crowd and the speed and duration of the march.





After the People’s Climate March, Flood Wall Street

Organizers with both the People's Climate March and members of the Flood Wall Street team are already framing their work in terms of “after the march,” springboards for long-term climate justice organizing rather than one-off days of action. (Image:
Organizers with both the People’s Climate March and members of the Flood Wall Street team are already framing their work in terms of “after the march,” springboards for long-term climate justice organizing rather than one-off days of action. (Image:


by Yates McKee, Common Dreams


Over the past month, the Mayday community space in Bushwick, Brooklyn, has been a buzzing organizational hub in the lead-up to the highly anticipated People’s Climate Mobilization taking place September 20-21 in New York City in advance of the U.N. special session devoted to climate change. But along with providing space and support for the march — including round-the-clock art-making of every conceivable sort — Mayday has also been the incubator for a large scale act of creative civil disobedience planned for lower Manhattan’s Financial District on the morning of Monday, September 22. Entitled Flood Wall Street, the centerpiece of the action is a massive sit-in intended to at once compliment, punctuate and radicalize the politics of the march itself.

Since the basics of the action were released early this month, social media buzz has turned into fever-pitch momentum, with high-profile figures like Naomi Klein, Chris Hedges, and Rebecca Solnit committing themselves to participate in various ways. Also involved is the Climate Justice Alliance, which first put out the call for disruptive direct action over the summer. As energy mounts and commitments roll in from individuals and groups, there is a palpable feeling among organizers that the Monday action has the potential to be an historic watershed, both in its projected scale and the boldness of its message: “Stop capitalism! End the climate crisis!” Potential participants are invited to sign an online “Pledge to #FloodWallStreet” in order to indicate what kind of role they will be able to play in the action.

The symbolic logic of Flood Wall Street is evoked in a beautiful hand-crafted graphic by legendary illustrator Seth Tobocman emblazoned on dozens of signs, flags and banners fabricated during an enormous art-build at Mayday on Sunday: In the image, poisonous effluents ascend into the sky from an archetypical stock exchange building, forming ominous storm clouds emblazoned with the phrase “climate chaos.” The clouds, in turn, rain back into the sea, which surges back toward the land with a tidal wave of human bodies readable as both victims of apocalyptic disaster and agents of a popular storm surging toward the source of the emissions. At once a mythic vision and a simplified diagram of ecological feedback, the image is accompanied by the hashtag #FloodWallStreet.A poster made by Seth Tobocman.


A poster made by Seth Tobocman
A poster made by Seth Tobocman


The stakes of staging an action in the Financial District on September 22 become clear when understood against the backdrop of the People’s Climate Mobilization and some of the tensions surrounding it. This so-called “weekend to bend the course of history” has two primary components, the energies of which Flood Wall Street organizers hope to both draw upon and intensify in their action.

On the first day of the People’s Climate Mobilization, a distributed “climate convergence” — intended to develop grassroots education and cultivate movement networks — will take place at various sites around the city. This convergence is designed to set the stage for the Climate March on September 21, which is expected to draw over a hundred thousand people from around the country into a massive demonstration through midtown Manhattan. The march is a big-tent affair, with a lofty if generic “demand for action, not words,” addressed at once to the assembled leaders at the United Nations and to “the people who are standing up in our communities, to organize, to build power, to confront the power of fossil fuels, and to shift power to a just, safe, peaceful world.”

For all this talk of action, though, the march itself is designed as a traditional street protest, permitted by the New York Police Department with a predetermined route, marshals and barricades. As Chris Hedges pointed out in an inflammatory take-down of the “last gasp of climate liberals” earlier this month, the big organizations funding the march are determined to play it safe, ideologically and tactically. However, the march will provide a platform for groups like the Climate Justice Alliance that place economic and racial justice at the forefront of their organizing, linking the climate crisis to issues of displacement, housing, food sovereignty and solidarity economies. Further, as an aesthetic event, the march promises to be beautifully kaleidoscopic and poetically inspiring thanks to the artistic organizing efforts of the Sporatorium project headquartered at Mayday.

Finally, as with any large march, the possibility of autonomous actions, diversity of tactics, and unforeseen confrontations is high. All this said, however, the backbone logic of the march is one of appealing to the accountability of elected leaders, with a political horizon defined largely in terms of campaigns like fossil-fuel divestment and socially-equitable green jobs programs.

For the purposes of building a wide-ranging populist coalition aiming to bring thousands into the streets to place climate change at the center of the political landscape, these basic principles make a kind of lowest-common-denominator sense. But for many activists in a city that has over the course of the past three years undergone both the upheaval of Occupy Wall Street and the disaster of Hurricane Sandy, the People’s Climate March is, by itself, lacking the teeth necessary to confront the deeper nature of the emergency. “The climate crisis is not just a narrow ‘environmental’ problem of resources or jobs in need of better management,” Flood Wall Street organizer Sandra Nurse said. “It is the supreme symptom of a political and economic system that is bankrupt to its core.”

According to Nurse, the action will project “an explicitly anti-capitalist message” that can take advantage of whatever space is created by Sunday’s march. The setting for the two events is telling: While the one on Sunday is a permitted march through midtown Manhattan, Flood Wall Street is intended to be a disruptive direct action right at the front door of the climate criminals themselves.

At 9 a.m. on Monday, participants are invited to begin gathering at Battery Park just down from the iconic Wall Street bull. People are invited to wear blue and to bring blue materials of all sorts to enhance the visual narrative of a “flood” — including the possibility of a single gigantic blue banner visible from the sky. The brief programming during the gathering-period will involve food, music courtesy of Rude Mechanical Orchestra, and speakers from frontline communities, kicked off by 13-year-old artist-prodigy Ta’Kaiya Blaney of Sliammon First Nation and numerous members of the Climate Justice Alliance from around the world. Also scheduled to speak are high-profile writers like Naomi Klein, Rebecca Solnit and Chris Hedges. Following that will be a mass training session led by direct action specialists Lisa Fithian and Monica Hunken that will combine physical exercises with choreographed ritual intended to symbolically highlight the action-logic of the “flood” in advance of inundating the Financial District with bodies.

For obvious reasons, tactical details about the sit-in are under wraps, but an explicit call has indeed been made for it to occur at 12 p.m. What ultimately transpires is of course a wildcard, but the guiding intention is to stay put and to hold space.

“With the right numbers, the action has the potential to be a game-changer,” organizer Zak Solomon said. “Of all the times for folks to risk arrest, this is a historic occasion to do so with a massive base of support and visibility.” However, Solomon added, “Obviously not everyone is in a position to take an arrest. While no action is ever completely without risk, Flood Wall Street is designed to be inclusive, and to facilitate the participation and support of non-arrestable people, too. The key thing is to have a critical mass of bodies in the Financial District at a moment in which the whole world will be watching New York.

Speaking to this imperative of capitalizing on the global media presence expected in the city for that week, David Solnit, an artist and direct action veteran of the 1999 Seattle WTO protests, described Flood Wall Street as a “counter-spectacle” to the U.N. conference, one that will “intervene and disrupt the hollow public relations spectacle of Obama and the United Nations with the simple message: Corporate capitalism equals climate crisis.”

Flood Wall Street is an evocative metaphor for both ecological crisis and popular power. Yet it also has an uncanny resonance with the recent history of New York City. Indeed, a little more than two years ago, the Financial District was literally engulfed by floodwaters in a scenario that had otherwise seemed imaginable only in a Hollywood disaster fantasy. As evoked in a Flood Wall Street meme, the iconic Wall Street bull was in fact surrounded by seawater. Business was shuttered, power was knocked out, and the skyline went black — except for Goldman Sachs, which had its own private generator system. Strangely, then, the dream of “shutting down Wall Street,” frequently invoked by Occupy, was accomplished not through a massive blockade planned by humans, but rather by the unpredictable force of the global climate system. This era, which has been dubbed the Anthropocene, is one in which the elemental systems that life depends on — water, soil and the atmosphere itself — are fundamentally marked by the traces of human activity, organized according to the dictates of Wall Street.

Thus, while Hurricane Sandy was not a human action, neither can it be considered a “natural” event in any simple sense of the term — a philosophical and political conundrum explored by artist-organizers Not an Alternative in their recently-opened Natural History Museum project. In the words of Tidal magazine, Sandy was a “climate strike” in which, like Frankenstein’s monster, the unintended fruits of Wall Street’s drive for perpetual growth had come home to ripen. As diagrammed in Tobocman’s Flood Wall Street graphic, the carbon-saturated atmosphere doubled back upon those who had treated it as a dumping ground for what neoliberal economists describe as the “externalities” of capitalist progress. What had been treated as an externality — environmental destruction happening to the little people downstream from the centers of profit-making — was now internal to the system itself, with floodwaters literally pouring into the headquarters of the world’s leading financial institutions. The flooding of major urban centers does not bode well for the task of sustaining the global capitalist system, even if profits are certainly to be made along the way. It is clear to almost everyone that something has to change, but the question is by whom and for whom such changes will be made.

This is the question that looms over both the U.N. summit and the People’s Climate March itself. Koch brothers-style climate change denial remains rampant, and superficial corporate greenwashing is more pervasive than ever. But significant segments of the 1 percent are beginning to take climate change seriously, as both a source of risk to be mitigated and a source of profit-making to be mined, whether in the form of new insurance instruments, green luxury development schemes or energy-efficient technologies of all sorts. Indeed, a veritable rogues gallery of climate-profiteering CEOs will be gathering on the same afternoon as Flood Wall Street at the Morgan Library and Museum in midtown Manhattan for a strategic meet up of the Climate Group. Its mission is to foment “the clean revolution,” through what member Tony Blair describes as the group’s “unique ability to convene key business and government stakeholders, communicate the economic opportunities presented by bold climate action, and drive leadership.”

Obviously, the People’s Climate March generally presents a people-centered vision of economic development rather than the profiteering of the Climate Group, but the fundamental question posed by Sandra Nurse remains: “Will we take the climate crisis as an opportunity to reimagine the very meaning and structure of economic life itself, or devote our energies to the signing of treaties and the development of more efficient and humane forms of global capitalism?” As suggested by the popularity of books like Thomas Picketty’s Capital and Naomi Klein’s forthcoming This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, the triple blow of the 2008 crisis, Occupy and Hurricane Sandy in the past five years has helped make “capitalism” a viable object of public critique in the United States rather than the taken-for-granted horizon for all of social life.

The People’s Climate March is undoubtedly a historic occasion, but without the spur provided by direct action and a more comprehensive narrative concerning capitalism itself, it risks becoming a merely beautiful spectacle to match that of the United Nations, making us feel good about ourselves without pushing us beyond our comfort zones. Of course, Flood Wall Street runs this risk too, even if its tactics are planned to be more aggressive and its messaging more militant. For this reason, organizers within both the larger mobilization coalition and the Flood Wall Street team are already framing their work in terms of “after the march,” with the latter understood as a springboard for long-term climate justice organizing rather than a one-off day of action.

Such organizing will take on numerous forms, ranging from the mitigation and adaptation policy tools called for by groups like to exciting experiments that link fossil-fuel divestment efforts to reinvestment in locally-based, self-organized green economy networks in places like Jackson, Miss., and the Far Rockaways section of Queens. The concept of dual power is relevant here: It means not only forging alliances with diverse groups and supporting demands on existing institutions, but also developing counter-institutions of “commoning” that can provide support for resistance, while testing out forms of non-capitalist life in the face of ongoing crises.

Of all places, the Far Rockaways has pride of place as a reference in upcoming mobilizations. When the climate went on strike against Wall Street during Hurricane Sandy, the entire city paid the price — first and foremost in low-income communities of color with the least access to services, provisions and infrastructure. The dialectical counterpoint to the images of Wall Street underwater are those of physical destruction and human suffering in such areas — the monumental ruins of the Rockaway boardwalk, streets transformed into beaches, homes moldering and uninhabitable, darkened housing projects filled with stranded families. But at the same time, the Rockaways also has a landscape of people-powered relief, reconstruction and resistance that developed in the void of the state. Think of the You Are Never Alone community center, the relief hubs housed in churches overflowing with donations and volunteers, projects like the campaign against the Rockaways natural gas pipeline (which itself has actions planned for the weekend of the People’s Climate Mobilization), and the local chapter of the nation-wide community organizing Wildfire project, which is working long-term to develop sustainable grassroots economies in the face of both further climate disaster and the rapidly accelerating gentrification/displacement process on the peninsula.

The precarious conditions and multifaceted struggles of a place like the Far Rockaways epitomize the challenge of climate justice. According to the Climate Justice Alliance, “The frontlines of the climate crisis are low-income people, communities of color and indigenous communities… We are also at the forefront of innovative community-led solutions that ensure a just transition off fossil fuels, and that support an economy good for both people and the planet.” This is a concept that will strongly inform many of the activities of the climate convergence on September 20, including a special session of Free University NYC called “Decolonize Climate Justice” that will take place at the historic El Jardin community garden on the Lower East Side.

The educational session is devoted to approaching climate crisis through the “experiential lessons” of inequalities based in race, class and migration-status — both in terms of environmental damage, as well as the internal cultures of climate organizing itself: “The face of climate justice activism is often white, Western, middle class and male… As a result, the issues raised by such activism frequently exclude the urgent perspectives and priorities of those most impacted by climate change.”

Informed less by environmentalism as a narrow arena of concern than with a broader vision of collective liberation, the call to “decolonize climate justice,” issued by Free University places climate crisis in a deep sense of historical memory stretching back to the colonial violence at the origins of capitalism itself. This historical vantage point stands as a humbling challenge, and question, for an action like Flood Wall Street: How to use a mediagenic mass arrest as something more than a one-off disruption concerned with just the climate, but instead as a groundbreaking event for a continuous struggle-to-come encompassing landscapes of resistance ranging from the Rockaways to Ferguson to Palestine?

As demonstrated throughout the period of Occupy, taking an arrest in political action can be a radicalizing and life-changing event. But in taking this risk, those with the privilege and support to do so must not lose sight of the systemic violence of incarceration to which low-income communities of color are subject — the very communities that bear the brunt of environmental injustice. Without this level of analysis, the solidarity required for true climate justice cannot be built, and environmentalism risks fading back into the unexamined white, middle class sphere that has long defined it.

As the date approaches, consider the invitation: Come for the climate march, stay for the flood. And if you join the flood, be careful not to get swept away in the beauty of a single action. In the words of Talib Agape Fuegoverde, “May a thousand floods of the people sweep the land in coming years, washing away the walls and borders that capitalism erects to keep our struggles apart.”


Yates McKee is an art critic working in Occupy Wall Street; his work has appeared in venues including October, The Nation and Tidal: Occupy Theory, Occupy Strategy.

Meet me in New York, says Bill McKibben — it’s time to get arrested


By Heather Smith, Grist

It’s not every day that Rolling Stone publishes a call for its readers to engage in a massive act of civil disobedience, but that’s exactly what happened Wednesday. “This is an invitation,” the call read. “An invitation to come to New York City. An invitation to anyone who’d like to prove to themselves, and to their children, that they give a damn about the biggest crisis our civilization has ever faced.”

The call’s author, Bill McKibben (who is –  full disclosure — on the board of this publication) and, the organization he co-founded, are planning a protest in New York this September 21 and 22, which is, not coincidentally, at the exact same time and place as the next UN Climate Summit. “You’ll tell your grandchildren, assuming we win,” writes McKibben — though some might argue that this discounts the very real possibility that, even in the event of a loss, enough marchers might survive through the floods, plagues, famines, and civil unrest of unchecked climate change to pass on the story, in post-apocalyptic Cormac McCarthy style.

Rolling Stone might seem like an atypical venue for this kind of thing. The call (or, as McKibben put it “invitation to demand action”) appears next to articles about hologram Michael Jackson, breaking news regarding the official title of the new Batman vs. Superman movie (Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice — which is, in this reporter’s opinion, a terrible title), and how the magazine has finally “penetrated the secret world” of Jack White.

But two years ago, McKibben published a very long article in Rolling Stone about the risk that carbon reserves pose to both the global economy and the globe, and it was one of the most read articles in the website’s history, even though it entirely failed to penetrate the secret life of Jack White. It went on to spark a student movement to divest college endowments from industries that are contributing to climate change.

The two-day event, as planned, will be a big, big one. Like, March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom big. Among the groups name-checked: health care, transit, education, and construction unions, plus clergy, scientists, students, “plain old middle-class Americans” and executive types. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that, at an “upper-crust” meetup in a Seattle office tower, McKibben told attendees that it was time to start getting arrested, preferably in full business regalia.

“I hope college students are not the cannon fodder,” he told the crowd, adding that it would be particularly nice to see some older people get arrested for a change.

How gracefully this event will coexist with New York’s police force, which has become increasingly militarized in the wake of 9/11 and has a history of dubious behavior in public protest situations, remains to be seen. There’s a new mayor in town, but unless something major happens over the summer, this will be the first large protest under DeBlasio’s administration. That should be interesting.

New York State Charges Passamaquoddy Fisheries Official With Elvers Poaching

WCSH6/NBC affiliatePassamaquoddy fisheries official charged with fraud while helping Unkechaug Indian Nation implement an eel management plan.
WCSH6/NBC affiliate
Passamaquoddy fisheries official charged with fraud while helping Unkechaug Indian Nation implement an eel management plan.


Gale Courey Toensing, ICTMN

The Passamaquoddy Tribe’s battle with the State of Maine over Native fishing rights became an interstate issue recently when New York State authorities lodged multiple felony poaching charges against a Passamaquoddy fisheries official who is helping the Unkechaug Indian Nation implement its eel management plan.

But according to Fred Moore III, the Passamaquoddy Tribe’s Fisheries Committee Coordinator who was charged, the fight for Native fishing rights is soon to become a bigger issue than the battles in Maine and New York.

Moore, his two sons and five other Native men, including citizens of the Unkechaug, Shinnecock, Mohawk and Anishinaabe nations, were charged with possession of American eels in excess of the New York State limit; possession of undersized American eels, and not having a state-issued food fish permit. All three charges are considered felonies because the value of the eels in the group’s possession was more than copy,500. They were also given misdemeanor charges of conspiracy to commit a crime and using an eel trap with a mesh size smaller than the minimum limit allowed, according to Lisa King, spokesperson for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), in an e-mail response to an ICTMN request for comment.

King said the eight men “surrendered themselves” to DEC officers on April 8. She did not respond to questions seeking the state’s position on tribal sovereignty and aboriginal fishing rights. The men are scheduled for arraignment on June 25.

The Passamaquoddy Tribe has been locked in battle with the State of Maine for the past two years over the tribe’s treaty and aboriginal right to fish for elvers, tiny baby American eels also known as glass eels. Citing concerns about the dwindling number of American eels available, the state wants to limit the number of permits the tribe issues. The tribe says every member has an inherent right to fish, but its conservation plan limits the total amount of elvers the tribe can harvest. Ironically, until this year the state limited the number of permits it issued but allowed an unlimited harvest of baby eels. This year under threat from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) to shut down the fishery, the state has caught up to the Passamaquoddy’s traditional conservation knowledge and reduced and limited the total allowable catch.

RELATED: Passamaquoddy Tribe Amends Fishery Law to Protect Its Citizens From State Threat

8 Allegedly Anti-Sovereignty Actions Taken by Maine Attorney General’s Office

Mills Kills Passamaquoddy-State Elvers Agreement

Maine Attorney General Under Fire Over Elvers

Maine Governor Allegedly Threatens Wabanaki Nations over Elvers

Moore, who is working at Unkechaug under tribal authority, told ICTMN that the matter of Native fishing rights is soon to become a central issue for eastern coastal nations. The Penobscot Nation is already embroiled in a federal lawsuit against the State of Maine over hunting and fishing rights. The lawsuit is supported by the Interior Department, which has entered the case as both intervener and plaintiff, and the Passamaquoddy Tribe is thinking about intervening, Moore said. In an interview with ICTMN, Passamaquoddy Chief Clayton Cleaves at the tribe’s Sipayik community, said the council will also consider a separate legal action.

RELATED: Feds Join Penobscot Suit Against State of Maine on Fishing Rights

“What we’re doing here is providing Unkechaug with technical assistance in implementing their eel management plan,” Moore said. “But we’re also here to assist other tribes in formulating a position for a class action suit against the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. The ASMFC has an American eel management plan that deals purely with member states and only references Native Americans. We don’t want equal status [with states]—want to be exempt from inadequate management mechanisms which cater to the economic interests of competing jurisdictions. We can’t have any part of it because they‘re completely inconsistent with indigenous culture.”

The ASMFC, created in 1942 by Congress, represents 15 Atlantic coastal states with a stated mission of “promoting and protecting Atlantic coastal fishery resources.” Each state has three representatives on the commission: the director of the state’s marine fisheries management agency, a state legislator, and an individual appointed by the state governor to represent “stakeholder interests,” according to the organization’s website. The United South and Eastern Tribes’ 26 member tribes, whose aboriginal and reservation territories are predominantly along the Atlantic coast, are not represented on the commission.

Moore said he wasn’t fishing on the night of March 28 when the men were ticketed for violations, but that the group had fishing permits issued by Unkechaug. The DEC was alerted to the group’s activities in a creek on Long Island’s east end and waited in the weeds for the tribal members to come back and start emptying their nets of elvers, Moore said.

“They were aware that the Unkechaug had issued permits, but they made a policy statement by charging us and basically treated these folks like they’d just robbed a 7-11 at gunpoint,” Moore said. “And to be branded as poachers is laughable—Passamaquoddy has offered the state assistance in apprehending poachers.”

If DEC authorities hadn’t “pounced” on the group, Moor added, they would have seen the men stock most of the elvers above artificial barriers—which is one of the conservation techniques he is implementing for the Unkechaug.

Unkechaug Chief Harry Wallace called the charges “ridiculous…. It was a multi-tribal project, and the whole idea is to restore the fishery all along the northeast coast,” he said. “If we don’t do it the whole fishery will be destroyed if they [the state] continue their practice.”

The creek is in Unkechaug aboriginal territory, where members exercise aboriginal fishing rights, Wallace said.

New York State allows a massive taking of eels six inches and longer, but prohibits the taking of elvers. The tribe has imposed a moratorium on the taking of adult eels, each of which can spawn tens of millions of elvers, Wallace said.

“Our goal is to restore 50 percent of what we take. We put them above a manmade obstruction so their chances of survival are enhanced,” he said. “This is a Native practice.”

To date, the Nation has successfully stocked more than 10,000 glass eels into Mill Pond and East Mill Pond at the headwaters of the Forge River adjacent to the Unkechaug Indian Reservation near Mastic, New York, said Wallace, adding that the DEC violated its own policy by filing felony fishing charges against Nation members and employees operating under the authority of the Unkechaug Nation American Eel Management and Restoration plan without first consulting the Nation.

“After being advised that Unkechaug eel restoration activities were being conducted under license issued by the Nation, ranking officers and representatives of the DEC acknowledged that they were aware of the license but refused to void the charges,” Wallace said. “Instead, DEC officials made racially disparaging remarks concerning the inherent rights and responsibilities of Native Americans, insisting that the Unkechaug eel fishery is a front for the illegal exportation of glass eels to other states.”

The Nation is contemplating legal action against the state, Wallace said.

On April 17, Chief Clayton Cleaves and Chief Joseph Socobasin of the Passamaquoddy communities at Sipayik and Motahkomikuk, respectively, wrote a letter of “support and commitment” to Wallace.

“Please be assured that your efforts to secure the rights and interests of your people while ensuring the sustainability of the American eel within their natural range will benefit all Native people on the east coast, including others who do not understand the cultural and spiritual relationships we have developed over several millennia of existence within our territories,” they wrote.

The chiefs said they are committed to working with Unkechaug “in defense of the marine environment, its resources and fishing rights of indigenous people.”



Native Americans Say US Violated Human Rights


WASHINGTON April 14, 2014 (AP)

By JESSE J. HOLLAND Associated Press

A Native American group is asking the international community to charge the United States with human rights violations in hopes of getting help with a land claim.

The Onondaga Indian Nation says it plans to file a petition at the Organization of American States on Tuesday, seeking human rights violations against the United States government. It wants the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to declare that the U.S. government’s decision not to hear its lawsuit asking for the return of 2.5 million acres in upstate New York to be violations of international human rights agreements.

The nation has argued that about 4,000 square miles in 11 upstate New York counties stretching from Pennsylvania to Canada was illegally taken through a series of bogus treaties. More than 875,000 people live in the area, which includes Syracuse and other cities.

U.S. courts have refused to hear the lawsuit asking for the return of their land, with the Supreme Court turning away a final petition in October.

Onondaga Nation lawyer Joe Heath, left. ((AP Photo/Mary Esch))
Onondaga Nation lawyer Joe Heath, left. ((AP Photo/Mary Esch))

“The problem is that we can’t get the governor to sit down with us and the United States to live up to its treaty rights,” said the Onondaga Nation’s attorney, Joe Heath.

While in Washington, the group plans to display a belt that George Washington had commissioned to commemorate one of the treaties that was supposed to guarantee the Onondaga their land and “the free use and enjoyment thereof.”

The group says it is not seeking monetary damages, eviction of residents or rental payments. Instead, it wants a declaration that the land continues to belong to the Onondagas and that federal treaties were violated when it was taken away. Onondaga leaders have said they would use their claim to force the cleanup of hazardous, polluted sites like Onondaga Lake.

The petition against the United States was brought by the Onondaga Nation and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which is made up of the Onondaga, Mohawk, Oneida, Cayuga and Seneca Nations.

It could be years before the commission decides whether to hear the nation’s complaint, Heath said. Even then, there is nothing that could force the government to follow international recommendations, Heath said. The hope is that public pressure would bring state and federal officials to the table.

“Yes, they can just ignore it but there’s only so long we think can they do that,” said Heath.

Even if nothing happens, they will have made their stand, they said.

“We’re here, we’re speaking out and they know where we stand,” Onondaga Clan Mother Freida Jacques said. “Maybe you won’t write it in history, but we’ll know we made this effort and we’re not letting the people down.”


Follow Jesse J. Holland on Twitter at

Senecas give state of New York $349 million check

31 Jul 2013 Ed Drantch

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (WIVB) – Casino cash is flowing once again into Western New York now that the financial standoff between New York State and the Seneca Nation has ended.

On Wednesday, the Senecas delivered a check for more than $300 million, putting those disagreements in the past. Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster says without this money there would have been big budget problems by November. And Governor Andrew Cuomo says he’s unsure how the city even managed to make ends meet.
“The Seneca agreement is one of the best pieces of news we’ve received in a very, very long time,” Mayor Dyster said.

Governor Cuomo added, “I think it’s a new day today in Niagara Falls. I think it’s been a new day for Western New York and I think today is just emblematic of that.”
The $89 million given to Niagara Falls is part of a larger pot of $349 million presented to the state. The money was withheld after years of back and forth over exclusivity rights and the establishment of “racinos.”

Seneca Nation President Barry Snyder said, it’s all in the past.
“We’re going to keep this compact intact cause we’re going to communicate and we’re going to move forward,” he assured.

The City of Buffalo also received $15.5 million and $34.5 million was given to Salamanca. But of all the host cities, Niagara Falls was impacted the most.
“Tens of millions of dollars that we had budgeted for our schools, our roads, our infrastructure were held back because the state and the Senecas couldn’t reach common ground. It was a very difficult time, but somehow we got through it,” Mayor Dyster said.

The governor praised the mayor, saying he rose to the occasion under rough economic conditions. Cuomo said he believes state government failed Niagara Falls, but this agreement will move them forward.
“It’s good for the Seneca Nation; it’s good for Niagara Falls; it’s good for Western New York; it’s good for the entire state. This is a symbol of a new day and a new relationship,” Governor Cuomo said.

The governor says all the money due to New York State by the Seneca Nation been paid, both past and present, and they’ll continue to make regular payments.

The $89 million check given to Mayor Dyster will be on display in City Hall.


NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo presses tribes to resolve casino-related disputes with state, warns them of non-Indian competition

By Michael Hill, Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that New York’s Indian casinos could face competition in their backyards if talks with tribes over his gambling expansion proposal fail to yield results soon.

Cuomo’s harder public stance with the tribes comes as he tries to shepherd his proposal to bring three Las Vegas-style casinos to upstate New York at yet-to-be-identified locations.

The owners of the former Nevele hotel in Ellenville and the former Concord in Sullivan County are among those hoping to win approval to operate non-Indian casinos.

State lawmakers are considering casino legislation, and a public referendum to change New York’s Constitution to allow non-Indian gaming halls could be on the ballot as early as November.

Three of the six upstate regions Cuomo is looking at already have Indian casinos. The governor said he would not allow a new casino to operate in a region where there already is a casino run by a tribe in good standing with the state. But that could change for tribes that fail to resolve issues with the state in current rounds of talks.

“The Senecas have a decision to make, the Oneidas have a decision to make, the Mohawks have a decision to make,” Cuomo told reporters at a Capitol news conference on Thursday. “It’s the same decision factors today that there are going to be in nine months. For the legislation to work, we need certainty and we need closure.”

The Seneca Nation of Indians and the St. Regis Mohawks have, for years, been withholding casino payments to the state, claiming New York violated contracts with the tribes by allowing gambling in their exclusive territories. The Senecas, who operate casinos in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca, have withheld more than $500 million since 2009 and are in binding arbitration with the state.

The Mohawks, who operate a casino on their northern New York land straddling the Canadian border, decided in October 2010 to stop making payments and have withheld $59 million.

The Oneida Indian Nation’s 20-year-old compact with the state does not require revenue sharing from its Turning Stone casino east of Syracuse, but it also does not grant them an exclusive territory. Cuomo suggested the Oneidas could acquire exclusive rights to their central New York territory, perhaps in context of settling longstanding land claims.

Cuomo stressed new casinos could bring desperately needed economic activity to parts of upstate New York that have been struggling for generations.

But the state, for generations, has had only mixed success in dealing with Indian issues, and it was unclear if the governor’s latest attempt would work. Even Cuomo, citing long-simmering issues with the Mohawks and Senecas, said he was dubious.

“We respect the governor’s comments today on the complexities of the issues, and we are engaged in a constructive dialogue with his administration,” Ray Halbritter, an Oneida Nation representative, said in a prepared statement.

A spokeswoman for the Senecas said they were abiding by the gag order set by arbitrators and could not comment. A Mohawk spokesman said the tribe had not had enough time to review the issues brought up by Cuomo to comment right away.

Cuomo hopes to strike a casino deal soon with the Legislature, which is scheduled to end it regular session June 20.

Under the governor’s proposal, potential casino sites would be identified by a special selection committee. No casinos would be located in New York City for at least five years, giving upstate operations a better chance to thrive, Cuomo said.

“A New York City franchise would eat at the buffet table of the upstate casinos,” he said.

Host localities and counties in the region around new casinos would split 20 percent of the government’s revenue, with the state getting the rest. The state uses gambling revenue for education aid.

International Experts Gather in New York to Explore Access to Justice for Indigenous Peoples


International indigenous rights experts looks at the significance of the Idle No More movement, as indigenous peoples engage with nation-states, the UN, and international institutions specializing in transitional justice. (ICTJ)
International indigenous rights experts looks at the significance of the Idle No More movement, as indigenous peoples engage with nation-states, the UN, and international institutions specializing in transitional justice. (ICTJ)

Refik Hodzic, ICTJ Director of Communications

NEW YORK, February 28, 2013 —  Leading indigenous rights activists and transitional justice experts from around the world are gathering at Columbia University, in New York, this week to discuss how best to use truth commissions, courtrooms, and other forums to strengthen indigenous peoples’ rights to truth and justice. The discussion is hosted by the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Program at Columbia University, the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the International Center for Transitional Justice.

The goal of the three-day gathering is to collect and share the experiences of indigenous peoples in designing, using, and advocating for truth and justice processes in countries as far apart as Australia, Canada, Colombia, Guatemala, Greenland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Russia, and the United States.

These calls for justice coincide with growing movements by indigenous rights groups, like Idle No More in Canada and the United States, which are drawing global attention.

“Indigenous peoples are among the most affected populations in times of violence,” explains Eduardo González, director of ICTJ’s Truth and Memory program. “Even in places that have not experienced dictatorship or internal conflict, indigenous peoples are affected by systemic, structural violations.”

Against this backdrop of both abuse and silence, some first nations and governments are charting new ground on ways to uncover the truth about the past, redress abuses suffered by indigenous peoples, and begin to heal as part of official truth-seeking policies.

“Around the world, great hopes are pinned on transitional justice measures,” said Pablo de Greiff, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence. “In practice, we are still trying to see how transitional justice measures actually work holistically.”

In North America, two recently established institutions stand out: the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), and the Maine Wabanaki-state Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Both institutions examine violations committed by the state against indigenous peoples, and both were established by indigenous peoples themselves in coordination with government. This is an entirely new phenomenon.

Chief Wilton Littlechild, who helped open the expert seminar on Wednesday morning, is one of three commissioners of the Canada TRC and chair of the UN’s Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

He is also a survivor of Canada’s Indian residential schools, where, for more than 150 years, Aboriginal children were often forbidden to speak their own languages or practice their own faiths, in an attempt to assimilate them into mainstream Canadian society. Many children were separated from their families and communities and sometimes forcibly removed from their homes.

“Justice necessarily involves considering the role of truth and reconciliation,” said Chief Littlechild, “the right to truth for victims and the right to truth for states.”

Each country’s unique historical and social circumstances will shape how groups and government can work together to address and redress historic injustices against native populations.

In Guatemala, the Historical Clarification Commission completed its work in 1999, finding that over 200,000 people had been killed in Guatemala’s civil war from 1960 to 1996. Approximately 83% of victims were Mayan.

Through its investigations, the commission laid the groundwork for today’s landmark case against former Guatemalan General Efraín Ríos Montt, who will now stand trial on charges of genocide.

Alvaro Pop, one of the international attendees and a Mayan activist who assisted with preparations of the Guatemalan Peace Accords, knows how hard it can be for indigenous peoples to raise their concerns. Although Mayans represent nearly 50 percent of Guatemalans and are a stronghold of the economy, they still live “like strangers in their own land,” remarked Pop.

As the UN reports, “The free expression of Mayan religion, language and other factors continues to be hampered by a shortage of resources and a lack of political will to enforce laws.”

Looking ahead, fundamental questions will need to be answered, including how truth commissions can address violations against indigenous peoples when they are still ongoing. While the expert seminar ends on March 1, discussions will continue, resulting in an unprecedented report to the UN Human Rights Council exploring these issues.

“Because indigenous peoples have experienced violence in several areas of the world, under conflict, dictatorship, or as a result of structural injustice,” said ICTJ Vice President Paul Seils, “we anticipate that there will be a need to adapt the instruments of transitional justice to these situations.”

About ICTJ

The International Center for Transitional Justice works to redress and prevent the most severe violations of human rights by confronting legacies of mass abuse. ICTJ seeks holistic solutions to promote accountability and create just and peaceful societies. For more information, visit